Live: Filament’s Live Shorts ST2B @ EMPAC at RPI, 10/2/10

While EMPAC is widely known for the high-tech, limitless possibility of its genre-smashing performance art, the concept of Live Shorts was that invited artists were asked to create a performance that was constrained by a rather strict set of rules:

1.) The performance must be under 20 minutes in length.
2.) The performance area is 20 x 30-feet.
3.) The performance may include one screen, one projector and a sound system.

There were nine artists who participated in Live Shorts throughout the weekend-long Filament festival, and they were grouped together in presentations of threes.

On Saturday afternoon, we caught Live Shorts ST2B in EMPAC’s Studio 2, and here’s what we saw:

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“Sheepspace” by SUE-C & Laetitia Sonami: “We are Sheepwoman,” intoned a recorded narration. “We connect things like a switchboard. That’s what we do.” Well, maybe, but not enough for me to to put together any kind of narrative plot-line for their piece. Still, it was a fascinating concept, which they described as “a live film,” although I’m pretty sure that no actual film was involved. Instead, the two artists sat on the stage floor (while wearing sheep head-pieces) and manipulated a series of still photos, drawn overlays, and three-dimensional objects which were projected on the big screen. There was a soundtrack that included – among many other things – roller rink organ music, cackling crows, oriental folk music and an over-ripe string-laden rendition of “Theme From a Summer Place.” It was visually seductive, especially a segment featuring a spinning color wheel and another projected from inside a small wooden box with a flashlight illuminating the corners.

“Intervention #2” by Wally Cardona: Each piece in choreographer-dancer Cardona’s “Interventions” series is based on a series of conversations with a local expert – in this case, Heidi Jo Newberg, professor of physics, applied physics and astronomy at RPI. Cardona rolled out a long white mat and laid down a couple of strips of brightly colored masking tape that ran from one end of the theater to the other, intersecting the mat. Then he littered the performance space with almonds, grains of salt, tennis balls, paper plates, a hand-truck, his flannel shirt and a roll of toilet paper – which were presumably meant to represent various elements of the cosmos. (Not sure at all where the hand-truck is supposed to fit in here.) While sporadic recorded excerpts of Newberg talking about the solar system and the immeasurable nature of space provided the soundtrack, the barefoot, charismatic Cardona performed a solo dance that pushed and tugged at the natural sense of balance. It was a wry and sometimes humorous performance, although I believe he may have lost points for extending beyond the 20-minute limit by a tick or two.

“You Do Not Know What You Are Talking About” by MTAA: For me, this where contemporary art collided headlong with “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Internet artists M.River and T.Whid (who go by the collaborative name of MTAA) sat side by side behind a table underneath the projection screen to deliver their “lecture.” Each was armed with a laptop, a microphone and a glass of water. The screen behind them displayed the title of their piece, their Twitter hash tag (#mtaa) and a countdown clock that informed the crowd of the remaining length of the performance. Audience members were invited to Twitter away, as the artists recited their incoming tweets. That was it. Really. The artists didn’t even recite all of the tweets that came in, either. But the selections that were recited included random bits of art history, conspiracy theories, quotations from plays, corporate shout-outs, political advocacy and just plain old stupid stuff like “Man, I type badly with my thumbs” and “I like peanut butter. Alot.” Best Tweet of the “Lecture” Award goes to Mandiburg for “I have always wanted to be a puppeteer.”

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